Trigger – self harm
So, in my last posted I shared with you the video ‘this is what I want you to know about self injury‘. This was to mark Self-injury Awareness Day, which was the next day.
In that post, I mentioned that I planned to be back the next day with a further post on what self-harm means to me. That didn’t quite happen – sometimes I just don’t have the words – so here I am back giving it a shot.
On most mental health issues, there are a few key messages I would like to share. For self-harm, it is the message that self-harm is much more than cutting.
Self harm is different things for different people. For me, it is not about an act or acts, but it is about a reason. For me, it is a reason behind why I do something that defines whether it is self harm. What reason? Well, for me:
If I do something because it makes me feel better in the short-term, despite knowing that it will make me feel worse afterwards, it constitutes self harm.
That could be many things. And it is.
I didn’t always know that self-harm wasn’t just about about the things that traditionally constitute self-harm (cutting, burning, etc.). I think it was my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) who first pointed out to me, not long after I started seeing her, that some of the activities that I was engaging in at the time, where basically self-harm; one in particular which I would not want to share with you – what’s done is done, after all – but you would never normally associate with self harm.
I think it’s a fair statement to make, though, that when most people think of self-harm they generally think of someone cutting. I first engaged in this form of self-harm when I was about 18. There was a particularly tough year I had around the time of my first year of university. I struggled for many reasons that year, and I started cutting. Although I did it very occasionally I found that it definitely did help.
I told nobody about it, though – I was very ashamed and embarrassed about it. I did not know then what I know now – quite how common it is. Whenever I did cut, I only ever did it on my legs – that way, nobody would see.
Well, until 2011 I only ever cut very occasionally – perhaps between one and four times a year. It was only ever something that I did when I was really struggling, and if anything it helped calm me down a lot when I needed it.
In early 2011, I had a short-stay in a very poorly run psychiatric ward, and if anything that left me a lot worse. I can clearly remember how I started self harming regularly pretty much as soon as I came out of hospital. That hospital stay had a very negative affect on my mental health. TRIGGER WARNING What was interesting was that I didn’t just want (or need) to cut more often, but I needed to do it deeper, and in places where it helped more – I started cutting on my arms for the first time. And I really did give myself a hard time for it – having to always wear long sleeve tops or tubi grip bandages – I was so annoyed at myself afterwards, but I can see now that I was doing what I could to get through.
What did I ‘get’ from cutting? I’m not quite sure. The pain felt good. It felt good to hurt myself. If anything, I’d say that I was in so much emotional pain that it felt good to be able to focus on the physical pain instead.
Well, as I mentioned, self-harm for me was not just about cutting. Looking back, I think that each of my other methods of self-harm were about escapism rather than feeling pain. Feeling pain does not apply to either of my other two.
I’ve already written a few times about one of my other chosen methods which was overdosing, which I did 9 times in 2011 – just 3 of them being suicide attempts. This was definitely about escapism for me. Most of the overdoses were small overdoses – enough to knock me out and make me sleep for up to 24 hours. I was really struggling with live, with my illness, with how I was feeling, and overdosing allowed me to escape it. I’ve now gone 16 months without overdosing, which I’m really proud of – but the urge to escape through overdosing is still often very strong. I’m not going to give in to it, but I still get shocked sometimes by how strong that urge gets.
Another self-harm method for me, which was again about escapism was online gambling. Even though I know that this was just another self-harm method I don’t write about it nearly as much, as I still can’t seem to let go of the sense of shame that I have from saying that, or the embarrassment even. Hopefully with time… Now chances are when most people hear of someone with an online gambling problem, they think of it as an addiction. But for me, I was not addicted. Just like how some other people cut, or use other traditional self-harm methods, I turned to online gambling. It let me escape for a while. The buzz of the gambling… meant I only had to think about it when I was doing it… and it let me escape whatever was troubling me. I was not addicted – I could manage not to gamble when I was not struggling mentally – I could go weeks or longer without having the need to gamble – and then something would tip me over the edge, I needed to escape, and I would slip up again. The trouble was that once I started I could never seem to stop. I got myself in a lot of trouble financially; got in a lot of debt, destroyed my credit rating, etc. I knew I could never walk away, but still I kept going back to it. And on some occasions I gambled so much that I left myself very suicidal – a good example about how self harm isn’t just physical harm, but that the harm can also be mental harm of financial harm.
Well, I am pleased to say that my cutting, overdosing and gambling problems are under control. I have worked hard at these, and I will continue to work hard on them.
I don’t overdose and I don’t gamble. I do very occasionally cut. But when I do that’s ok. I accept that what’s done is done, and I move on.
But I think that for most people there is always perhaps still some small way in which they harm themselves – smoking, drinking too much, whatever it might be…
Me? Right now, the self harm method which I regularly engage in is comfort eating. Junk food. Fast food. Whatever it might be. My weight is the biggest it’s ever been. Hardly any of my clothes fit me anymore. I feel fat and ugly and disgusting. I want to do something about this. Yet I keep comfort eating. It makes me feel better in the short term – but ultimately leaves me worse overall. It does me a lot of physical and mental harm.
You might think this is a strange thing to describe as self harm – but again, for me, it’s about looking at the reason why I do it, rather than what the act is – and ultimately I see that I do it for very similar reasons to why I did the other things.
I will get this under control. Right now, my need to make myself feel better is unfortunately often stronger than my want to be healthy. But I am going to get this under control. I am still figuring out how. I keep trying, and I keep slipping up.
But if I could get cutting, overdosing and gambling under control – surely I can get my eating under control too?
Watch this space!